App Review: Mend for Breakup Recovery

One important trend in mental health apps is specialized support for particular problems. Mend is one such app: it focuses on recovering from a breakup.

The good

  • Customizes its content to specific types of breakups.
  • Daily talks are like hearing from your most insightful and wise girlfriend.
  • You can access additional breakup-related content.
  • Emoji-based check-ins use a limited set of emojis, organized from most negative to most positive.
  • Journal prompts are potentially useful.

The bad

  • The mood check-ins aren’t used later for trend analysis or reporting.
  • The relationship advice feels good when you listen but doesn’t promote enough forward progress.
  • The subscription is expensive at $9.99 a month, $7.99 a month for three months, or $4.99 a month for a year.
  • Journaling on a smartphone isn’t pleasant or useful.

how you use it

When you first use Mend, it asks you to specify what kind of breakup you went through. The options are:

  • Commitment
  • Incompatible lifestyle
  • Infidelity
  • Fell out of love
  • Distance
  • I don’t know

Content is then targeted towards the kind of breakup you indicated.

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Each day you check in using an emoji. This is a popular paradigm for mental health apps, not always used effectively. Mend’s check-in uses a small set of emojis organized in order of negative-to-positive valence, which makes them easy to use, and potentially meaningful if you were to analyze them longitudinally. I didn’t see any way the check in data was used or reported back to show trends or predictions though.

Each day the “training session” is a short (three-minute or so) talk, recorded by Mend founder Elle Huerta. She has a lovely speaking voice that felt caring and empathetic. It’s like having my wisest girlfriend talking some sense into me each morning. I enjoyed the talks each day. They felt more personal and human than interacting with a therapybot.

However, the training sessions are only provided once a day. In a breakup, especially in the early days, you likely feel crazed many times per day! You’re missing contact with your partner nearly all the time. Listening to a once-a-day training is like talking to your best friend about the breakup. It distracts you for a brief time, and then you’re left with all that pain and craving and reminiscing. She’s tired of hearing about it, and you need more or different support. IMG_1872

After the training session, you are prompted to journal about a topic related to the talk. It’s hard to journal on a phone though. I do a lot of personal journaling, but I do it in Google Docs on my laptop or iPad, so occasionally when using Mend I went to my Google Docs journal and answered the prompt. But more often I just didn’t answer the prompt.

You get the audio trainings for free for seven days. After that, to get daily trainings (along with some Mend guides, emailed to you) you must subscribe. It’s $9.99 a month or $7.99 for three months at a time or $4.99 for a 12-month subscription. This is very expensive.

After seven days I chose not to subscribe. While I enjoyed the daily talks, I didn’t feel the content was special enough to justify spending money on it. I didn’t feel I was making any forward progress with the help of the app.

For example, the talk I listened to on Day Six, was “Saying goodbye to a future.” Elle talks about how you are likely to have lost your imagined future when your relationship ended. The journaling prompt asks, “Are you holding onto a future and are you ready to say goodbye to it?”

This is an important issue, but the support Mend offers doesn’t go far enough. In fact, there are psychological approaches to combating this kind of “if only thinking.” Mental contrasting for counterfactuals can be used as a kind of disputation of the possibility of that imagined future. This can reduce disappointment, regret, and resentment (Krott & Oettingen, 2017). But Mend offers no real suggestions for dealing with this kind of all-too-common rumination of what might have been. What about offering a mental contrasting exercise alongside the talk about “saying goodbye to a future”?

Mend does offer the occasional helpful suggestion. The app suggested I delete photos of my ex, on the theory that seeing him reactivates memories and love in the same way that seeing him in person does. That was a good idea. Another day, it suggested I add fermented foods to my diet, in order to improve my mood. Not a bad tip, and something a girlfriend might tell me if I was feeling bad: “Anne, eat some kefir! It’ll improve your gut flora AND your mood!” It just didn’t feel totally on target to me.

story time for millennials

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Mend includes a “stories” feature that is essentially just blog posts provided within the app, with apparently personalized recommendations. Here’s one I that was suggested for me: How Breakups Change as You Get Older. It starts out, “Breaking up at 28 is different than breaking up at 21.”

That’s probably true, but felt not very relevant to me. I’m 50. I have three kids, have been divorced for almost six years, and have had a wealth of good and bad relationships. This article doesn’t deal with financial issues, remarriage, blended families, substance abuse, or anything else that looms large at my stage of life.

That’s not a hit against the article… just to point out that even within the specialized mental health topic of breakup recovery, there are wildly different experiences and needs. I may not be in this app’s target demographic, just like I wasn’t in Woebot’s, with its darling baby hedgehogs and obscure emoji mood check ins. These apps seem targeted to a younger crowd. But Mend apparently recognizes that breakups at different ages differ. Founder Huerta said in an interview, “The dynamics of a break-up when you’re 35 are very different from the dynamics when you’re 18. A lot of the break-ups in the 25-35 range look like divorce – you have moved in together, maybe you share a pet or even a child. There are a lot of logistics involved.”

I like that Mend has already started personalizing their content in a really easy way — with the breakup types. I could imagine in the future they can ask things like, “was this a divorce? were you living together? are there children involved?” and so forth. Mend can potentially target its content to individual needs without going so far as to implement artificial intelligence based recommendation capabilities.

still looking…

I love the idea of Mend, and some aspects of the implementation. For me, the price is too high, and the content too infrequent to make it a good trade. But I’m interested in how they’re targeting semi-customized mental wellness support to people suffering from a breakup and how the use of recorded audio can give a sense of empathy and care.

 

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